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New Report Links Homeowners’ Auto Dependence With Foreclosure Risk

Homeowners in car-dependent areas without access to alternative transportation are at greater risk of foreclosure, according to a report released yesterday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that calls for mortgage underwriting standards to begin taking so-called "location-efficiency" into account.

Foreclosure_Rate_Homes_Sale_Chicago_Suburbs_5wKfNDSWQE0l.jpgWeeds spring up near a foreclosed home in Illinois. (Photo: Getty)

The NRDC examined data for 40,000 mortgages in Chicago, Jacksonville, and San Francisco, seeking to test the contention -- emphasized most often by the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology -- that affordable housing should include transportation costs as well as mortgage bills.

And what did the report's authors find?

In all three cities ... statistically sound results [indicated] that the probability of mortgage foreclosure increases as neighborhood vehicle ownership levels rise, after controlling for income. These results suggest that mortgage lenders should include measures of location efficiency in their underwriting to more accurately predict the risk of default.

In addition to including transit access and walkability in mortgage underwriters' measurement of borrowing terms, the NRDC recommended that location-efficiency be formally adopted as a goal for community planners. Particularly in Sun Belt and West Coast areas where waves of foreclosures have prompted new fears of suburban blight, the report suggests that rebuilding neighborhoods with location-efficiency in mind could stave off negative effects from any future downturn in home prices.

NRDC's conclusions are already being heeded by federal officials. Several House Democrats banded together this summer to add language to their chamber's climate bill asking the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure 50,000 location-efficient mortgages.

That climate legislation is stalled for the time being, but the Obama adminstration's deputy housing and urban development secretary said last week that the White House would spend $10 million on research aimed at boosting the issuance of location-efficient home loans.

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